Johnston's Pier

Singapore Infopedia


Johnston’s Pier was a jetty that once stood along Collyer Quay, opposite Fullerton Square and the Hong Kong Bank Building on Battery Road.1 Built to facilitate the movement of goods and passengers, it was completed on 13 March 1856.2 In its time, many famous dignitaries – including British royalty and other VIPs – first set foot in Singapore on this pier. It was named after Alexander Laurie Johnston, one of the earliest European settlers in Singapore.3 Johnston’s company, A. L. Johnston & Co., was located across the road about where the HSBC building stands today, at the corner of Battery Road and Collyer Quay.4

Before the development of Collyer Quay which began in 1858, buildings along Singapore’s southern shoreline were directly facing the sea.5 As business and commerce developed along the waterfront, many merchants set up their businesses at Commercial Square (today’s Raffles Place), with their godowns backed into the waterfront where they had their own jetties.6

For the convenience of the commercial and shipping interests in Singapore, the idea of constructing a wooden jetty near the godowns of Johnston & Co. was first mooted to the municipal committee on 26 March 1853.7 After consulting the government surveyor, the committee sanctioned on 20 July 1853 the construction of a stone ghaut to be used as a public landing place, instead of the wooden jetty as originally intended. In conjunction with the proposed ghaut, a stone embankment stretching from the proposed ghaut to Battery Road would be built.8 Building plans for a jetty designated as “Johnston’s Pier” was submitted to the committee some three months later. Then on 19 October 1853, the committee sanctioned the construction of the jetty at an expenditure not exceeding $3,000.9

In 1856, the completion of Johnston’s Pier was announced to the resident councillor and chairman of the municipal committee by engineer captain, Ronald Macpherson.10

Initially, a male pier-keeper was engaged at a salary of $6 per month to keep the crane in working order, as well as to clean and light the lamps at the pier. A small house was constructed for his accommodation at the inner end of the pier.11

Made of iron and wood, the pier’s 40-feet-wide platform extended from shore into the sea, supported by piles and pillars.12 The landing facilities included a seven-ton crane costing $900, and the pier head also served to enlarge and extend the battery at Fort Fullerton.13 A breakwater was constructed at the end of the pier with an improved slip and landing place.14

To add elegance to the pier entrance, four ornamental lamp posts with fluted columns and turn-over leaves were installed, as well as four copper lanterns glazed with plate glass and two Argand oil burners with copper silvered parabolic reflectors attached to the front. The installations cost about $650.15

A red lamp used to hang at the end of the pier to warn ships as they entered the harbour.16 Thus, Johnston’s Pier was popularly known as lampu merah in Malay and ang teng in Hokkien – both meaning “red lamp”. Both names continued to be used to refer to the new Clifford Pier, even after Johnston’s Pier had been demolished and replaced by it.17

Famous arrivals
Visiting royalty and other dignitaries were often met with pomp and circumstance at Johnston’s Pier, which was always “dressed for the occasion”.18

The first VIP visitor who landed at Johnston’s Pier was possibly Prince Alfred Ernest Albert, Duke of Edinburgh, on 3 December 1869. He was accorded a royal welcome with full military honours, including a band. Army troops led a procession through Battery Road to Commercial Square for a reception.19

Other dignitaries
King Chulalongkorn of Siam: 15 March 1871 and 2 June 1890.20 The king gifted a bronze elephant statue to Singapore on his first visit, to commemorate the first overseas trip by a Siamese monarch.21
Ulysses S Grant, former president of the United States: 1 April 1879.22
King David Kalakaua of Hawaii: 6 May 1881.23
Prince Henry of Prussia: 24 February 1898 and 2 January 1900.24
Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York: 21 April 1901.25
Prince Arthur of Connaught: 3 February 1906.26
Duke and Duchess of Connaught: 1 February 1907.27
Prince of Wales: 31 March 1922, with Lord Louis Mountbatten. Departed 1 April 1922, also from Johnston’s Pier.28

Clifford Pier
In October 1929, plans for a new pier that could handle the increased traffic from ships was approved. It would replace Johnston’s Pier, and would be located along Collyer Quay, at a short distance away from Johnston’s Pier.29 The new pier was named Clifford Pier, after Hugh Clifford, governor of the Straits Settlements from 1927 to 1929, notwithstanding protests against renaming the new pier.30

Clifford Pier was opened on 3 June 1933.31 The red lights which marked the outer corners of Johnston’s Pier were transferred to a similar position on Clifford Pier.32 By November 1935, Johnston’s Pier was demolished.33

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 100, 114. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
2. “Municipal Committee,” Straits Times, 31 January 1854, 5; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 8 April 1856, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 62–63 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 15. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]) 
4. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 201, 485 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 121; Majorie Doggett, Characters of Light: A Guide to the Buildings of Singapore (Singapore: Donald Moore, 1957), 118 (Call no. RCLOS 725.4095957 DOG-RFL]); Survey Department, Singapore, Singapore Street Directory and Sectional Maps (Singapore: Survey Dept., 1957), 15–16. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])
5. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 90. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
6. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 96.
7. “Singapore Municipal Committee,” Straits Times, 17 May 1853, 5; “Municipal Committee,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 22 July 1853, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Municipal Committee.”
9. “Singapore Municipal Committee,” Straits Times, 25 October 1853, 5; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 25 October 1853, 4; “Municipal Committee.”
10. “Untitled.”
11. “Municipal Committee,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 1 May 1856, 4; “Page 1 Advertisements Column 2,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 12 February 1857, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Untitled.”
13. “Municipal Committee,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 27 October 1854, 4; “Municipal Committee,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 6 October 1854, 8; “Untitled”; “Singapore Municipal Committee.”
14. “Municipal Commissioners,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 1 October 1857, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Singapore Municipal Committee,” Straits Times, 6 November 1855, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 100.
17. “How Should Chinese Street Names Be Translated into Chinese?” Straits Times, 14 July 1935, 4; “Johnston’s Pier,” Straits Times, 30 August 1932, 19 (From NewspaperSG); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 100.
18. “The Decorations,” Straits Times, 4 December 1869, 1; “Topics of the Day,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 12 May 1881, 2; “Copies of the Bag,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 5 April 1897, 2 (From NewspaperSG); George L. Peet, Rickshaw Reporter (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1985), 121. (Call no. RSING 070.924 PEE)
19. “Official Reception of the Duke of Edinburgh,” Straits Times, 4 December 1869, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Fortnight’s Summary,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 15 March 1871, 1; “Untitled,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 29 March 1871, 1; “The Arrival of the King of Siam,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 3 June 1890, 5. (From NewspaperSG); Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Dhoraisingam S Samuel, 2010), 109. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
21. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 29–30; “Arrival of the King of Siam.”
22. “Copies of the Bag,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 5 April 1879, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Topics of the Day.”
24. “Arrival of Prince Henry of Prussia,” Mid-day Herald and Daily Advertiser, 24 February 1898, 3; “Prince Henry,” Straits Times, 3 January 1900, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “The Royal Visit,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 20 April 1901, 2; “The Royal Visit,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 23 April 1901, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Gretchen Liu, Singapore: A Pictorial History 1819–2000 (Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with the National Heritage Board, 1999), 94–95. (Call no. RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])
26. “Prince Arthur’s Reception,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 17 January 1906, 3; “The Royal Visit,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 5 February 1906, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “The Royal Visit,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 4 February 1907, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “The Royal Visit,” Straits Times, 30 March 1922, 11; “The Landing,” Malaya Tribune, 31 March 1922, 5; “Prince’s Mid-Night Departure,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 6 April 1922, 215. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Modern Pier for Singapore,” Straits Times, 23 October 1929, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Sir Hugh Clifford,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 June 1932, 8; “Protests against Renaming Pier,” Straits Times, 10 August 1932, 12; “No Reason Why It Should Be Johnston’s Pier,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 August 1932, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
31. “Just a Name,” Sunday Tribune, 3 June 1944, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Pier Lights,” Straits Times, 2 June 1933, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Johnston’s Pier Dies Hard,” Straits Times, 22 April 1935, 11; “Johnston’s Pier Goes Under – but Not Far Under,” Straits Times, 24 November 1935, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



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